As our screens and feeds flash with sales and promos, and we plan the backyard barbeque with friends and family, we should take a moment to remember the history and importance of Memorial Day. We often recognize it as the unofficial mark of summer, and after a long academic year it is a welcome reprieve. But its purpose and deeply held meaning are inextricably linked to our nation and its history.
After the Civil War, in Waterloo, NY, the first “Decoration Day” was organized as families placed flowers on the graves of those who had given what President Lincoln called, “the last full measure of devotion” to the Union cause.
While Memorial Day received its official name in 1967, our memories aren’t reserved solely for the last Monday in May. Over the past decade and a half, nearly every day has been a memorial day in some part of this country as nearly 7,000 young service men and women have been laid to rest.
Walt Whitman stated that “Peace is always beautiful” and indeed it is, but the price we pay for that peace is never beautiful. The scars of global conflict can be uglier and more lasting as the darkest aspects of our humanity create voids for our friends and family that fill us with anguish and longing.
Kentuckians who made the ultimate sacrifice are memorialized across our campus. Memorial Hall stands as stalwart tribute of gratitude to those who died while wearing our nation’s uniform. Alongside the prominent banners and trophies that decorate Memorial Coliseum, thousands of names are encased behind glass to honor those who fought and died in World Wars I and II, as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Recognition of their duty, courage, and honor should not go unnoticed any evening our Wildcats compete against other universities or when the atmosphere of the Coliseum is filled with music, but this is especially true on Memorial Day.
Memorial Day remembers those who fought and died for our country, but I’m also reminded of our student veterans who faced fate’s cruel hand as they buried friends and family, overcame indescribable challenges in combat, and now are expected to be college students. The transition to a college campus is often not an easy one, but with the support of our Veterans Resource Center, we can welcome them here and help them find a home. We are doing more to support our student veterans, and a new center currently under construction is due to open this summer.
This weekend, amid the joy of the forthcoming summer, take a moment to visit a national cemetery or plan a trip to walk the corridors of Memorial Coliseum and see the countless names and markers that stand in memory of our service men and women, and the families who have endured in their absence.